8 Comments February 06, 2011

Tapas Molecular Bar Revisited

中央区日本橋室町2-1-1, Tokyo, Japan, Official Website

The 7-seat Tapas Molecular Bar in the sky lobby of the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo is the home of chef Jeff Ramsey, formerly of Minibar in Washington D.C.  My first meal in 2008, while delicious, featured many of the same dishes featured at Minibar.  I think a lot of this was due to the newness of the restaurant and the difficulty in finding its place.  It’s no easy task to integrate new molecular techniques with traditional Japanese cuisine.  However now, two years later, this restaurant has really found its niche in its surroundings and thoroughly impressed me with innovative, delicious, and really fun cuisine.

One aspect of the Molecular Bar that makes the experience so fun is its chefs.  Instead of creating an environment in which interactivity is passive-aggressively shunned, chef Ramsey and his team explained the back story of each dish and how it related to Japanese culture.  This was particularly crucial for the nostaligic dishes as many of the diners did not grow up in Japan.  Questions were encouraged, and frankly, this in-depth understanding of the food I was eating really added another dimension to the meal’s enjoyment.  Not only did I learn a tremendous amount about the food and its preparation, but I felt like I was eating a story with each course.

Glögg – A small amuse bouche shot glass of the Scandinavian spiced Christmas drink.

Chupa Tapas – A candied foie gras pâté shaped and wrapped to look like a Chupa Chups lollypop.  This was unbelievable, and possibly the best thing I’ve tasted in awhile.  Eaten in one bite, the crunchy sugar shell cracks into a crispy brittle adding textural contrast to the smooth and creamy foie gras.  The rich flavor in combination with the caramel flavored sweetness was incredible.

Tai ChazukeChazuke is a Japanese soup made from green tea, dashi broth, and rice.  It is often topped with dried seaweed, pickled vegetables, fish roe, and other salty and sometimes sour savory ingredients.  Like porridge, this dish is a way to utilize leftover rice as the water re-hydrates it.  In this dish a lean slice of sea bream was served alongside a spherified tea ball with crunchy miso beads.  In the mouth the ingredients combine and re-create the nostaligic flavor of Chazuke.  This was a pretty original concept.

Bacalao Espuma – A shot glass of cod foam layered with tomato puree and a small bread crisp to add textural contrast.  The salty cod foam spread like whipped cream on the crouton, the tomato added a hint of sweetness.  This was quite good.

Chef Ramsey demonstrating the spherification technique. This technique, originally conceived by El Bulli, is used here to create a dish that looks like caviar.  The spheres form when sodium alginate is dripped into a cold calcium chloride solution forming a skin over the liquid beads.

Roast Pepper Caviar - This was a dish more about the concept than the flavor.  The texture was similar to caviar, though not identical.  For me the defining fingerprint of caviar is a briny and salty flavor in combination with a cold temperature and burst-in-your-mouth consistency.  This dish had none of those, so while the concept was playful it was still far from caviar.  I also don’t really like the flavor of sweet red pepper.  This was my least favorite course of the night.

Sushi – Cubed tuna tartar atop a rice foam.  In the mouth the ingredients mixed creating an identical flavor profile to tuna sashimi.  This was a really great concept.

Black truffle and lily bulb – This was an exceptional dish.  A light and fluffy lily froth garnished with caramelized garlic and fragrant black truffle shavings.  The nutty and pasty chunks of lily bulb at the bottom — a bit like chestnut without the sweetness — added a creaminess without making the soup too rich.  The warm fragrance from the truffle really brought everything together.

King crab and uni – A light and fresh followup to the previous course.  A variation of this dish was served at my previous meal here called “Red.”  Unlike last time, however, this dish had focus and the ingredients really worked well together.  The simple tomato-infused jelly brought out some of the latent vegetal flavor of the crab.  The uni added sweetness.

Kasago – Roasted scorpion fish with a dried miso powder and crispy skin “chicharron.”

Lobster, potato, and Vanilla – Butter-poached lobster with a potato gnocchi and vanilla broth.  The aroma of the vanilla with the butter gave the lobster a lighter and sweeter flavor.

Secreta de Iberico – Iberian cured ham covered in a cloud of smoke.  The smoking process happened in front of our eyes as the chef explained the dish.

Xiaolongbao – Traditionally a type of steamed bun from eastern China, also known as “soup dumplings.”  The dumplings are stuffed with broth and are usually eaten with a spoon to collect the bouillon as it spills out.  Similarly, the lamb rib was filled with jus creating a natural dumpling.  When eaten in one bite the juice mixes with the already moist meat making this chop taste even sweeter.

Wagyu – Thick wedges of wagyu beef with baby carrot and greens.

Miso soup – A spherified ball of dashi broth served alongside miso marbles and dusted with dried nori powder.  In the mouth the ingredients mixed creating the texture and flavors of miso soup.

Snow – A light peanut mousse covered with nut brittle.

Petits fours – A sacher torte of apricot jam inside of chocolate cake with a clear candy dome encasing, a miniature mont blanc (a fresh chestnut cream dessert), a thin slice of cinnamon toast, and a small effervescent pink disc called “raspberry soda.” Last was a black truffle flavored chocolate truffle. The smell of the truffle coming from the chocolate was immediately noticeable.

Fruits – Lemon, lime, and strawberry.  First, Chef Ramsey instructed us to taste a lime to ensure its sourness.  We then chewed on the miracle fruit for thirty seconds without any indication of what it would do to our tastebuds.  Afterwards, we popped the sour lemon and limes like they were the sweetest fruits imaginable.  The miracle fruit prevented our tongue from tasting sour leaving behind only the sweet taste of sugar.

My recent meal told a story.  This meal was no hodgepodge of ingredients forming disjoined courses.  Many of the dishes invoked memories of Japanese comfort food only told from a different perspective.  The fast-paced service kept the twenty-course meal alive and exciting.  This was an edible show, and it tasted really good.

This is certainly one of the coolest restaurants in Tokyo right now.  I can’t wait to go back.

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  • Laissez FareFebruary 7, 2011 at 6:09 am

    Looks like a lot of fun – beautiful presentation and some seemingly sensible combinations with nice twists. BTW, what did the first two courses (glogg and foie gras) have to do with Japan? They seemed disjointed (but fun).

    All the best,


  • AdamFebruary 7, 2011 at 11:26 am

    Hey LF — It was a ton of fun, and we kept talking about the dishes in detail for a week after. From what I remember, the Glogg had a bit of ginger in it. The foie gras was not at all Japanese, though I’m not sure of the ingredient source. But it was so good. It’s true that the amuses didn’t have much of a Japanese influence, but the overall meal did — at least a lot more than two years ago. I thought that was pretty cool.

  • DavidFebruary 7, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Wow, that a wonderful review. I’ve been to some of the heavy hitters in the MG and some that just dabble in it. This restaurant seems like one of the most interesting. A lot of places that just use MG for show often fail in the execution. Often times I wish they would just avoid the foam (or whatever) and make the dish taste better.

    Was this your first experience with Miracle Fruit? I have a box of it in my desk drawer. I have been meaning to put together a tasting.

  • LawandFoodFebruary 7, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    Adam, another great review of one of my favorite restaurant experiences! I love all the pictures and videos, especially since they show the evolution of the restaurant’s menu…although I’m happy they kept certain dishes (Xiaolongbao, Miso Soup, Fruit). Makes me excited for a return visit in the future!

  • YogiSeptember 25, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Hi Allan. I cant’t stop reading your amazing posts. I’m planning to visit japan this november. If I can only choose 1 restaurant in Tokyo and 1 in Osaka. What is your reccomendation? Thank you.


  • MarcusNovember 20, 2012 at 3:49 am

    Yogi, I’m not Allan, but I’m quite partial to Fujiya 1935 in Osaka.

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  • image description TC_BKK 3 years ago

    Doing research for next week. Tapas Molecular Bar at the Mandarin Oriental in Nihonbashi http://t.co/zUk7ajlJ